Pathkeepers Native youth outside the White House in Washington, D.C. after touring the White House and meeting with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Leadership Camp: Building Culture, Creativity, Compassion and Courage


Pathkeepers for Indigenous Knowledge, a nonprofit organization, held its Second Annual Native Youth Leadership Camp from July 20-27, 2014 in Culpeper, Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. The camp brought 22 Native youth together to experience Indian cultural and educational activities, identify healthy food and life choices, and explore their personal interests and tribal identity. These Indian youth built self-confidence, leadership and consensus skills, educational goals, creative and independent thinking, and health and wellness.

“With our second annual leadership camp, we built on the success of our first camp to provide an environment where the campers could freely express themselves, build their self-confidence, and could explore their own individual interests,” said Angelina Okuda-Jacobs, Pathkeepers president. “The campers had a wonderful camaraderie within a very short time and made lasting friendships.”

Campers agreed, saying “it was so fun, I would want to dream about it everyday;” and “I can’t wait for next year!” Many of them enjoyed the leadership and cultural experiences, saying: “everyone had a chance to step or open up and try to help everybody.”

The camp was held on a horse farm in Culpeper with youth aged 10 to 17 attending from many tribes, including Navajo, Cheyenne, Seneca, Pamunkey, Lumbee, Muckleshoot, and Gila River, among others. To help ensure that Indian lifeways are passed to these younger generations, Pathkeepers brought Indian elders, tribal leaders and cultural educators from around the country to share their knowledge. Pathkeepers was also honored to host the Youghtanund Drum, who shared their traditional songs and dances at the camp powwow.

Camp activities included: exploring artistic expression like beading, regalia applique, Native flute, storytelling and poetry; experiencing Indian horse culture and the special relationship with the horse nation; and Indian games and social activities, including lacrosse, drumming and dancing. The camp also included a “College Day” bringing together representatives from the University of Virginia, American University, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University to share information on college preparation, financial aid and college life.

Campers helped prepare foods offered at the camp, which were all-natural, healthy and nutritious with emphasis on traditional Indian foods. Through these foods, Indian youth learned how to replace high-fat, high-calorie and nutrient barren foods with Indian traditional foods, which are healthy and nutrient rich—benefits that can fight the epidemic of health problems among Indian people, like obesity, diabetes, depression, blindness, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and cancer.

Campers took a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. where they met with policy and lawmakers working in Indian Affairs. Pathkeepers youth toured the White House and met with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and visited the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing room for a discussion of legislation supporting Native language immersion programs with the National Indian Education Association and legislative aides to Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico.

While in Washington, D.C., Pathkeepers youth visited the Navajo Nation Washington Office to learn about the work the nation does in D.C. and enjoyed a presentation from the Center for Native American Youth. Pathkeepers youth also visited the National Museum of the American Indian and were provided a tour of Native art exhibits. Pathkeepers extends its thanks to these officials and all who helped make the Second Annual Native Youth Leadership Camp a terrific success.

Once the campers returned home, their parents reported that their children benefitted from the camp. Some parent reactions:

“Her experience at camp was life changing! She is already planning to return next year. I love that the kids at this camp had such an awesome week that they were crying because they had to leave each other.”

“My child arrived [home] with a sense of peace. She was very calm and talked about the elders, the food and her connection to the earth. She was happy with a lot of enthusiasm to return next year.”

“My child wants to eat more healthy and more Native foods.”

“He came home empowered and encouraged. He is so much more optimistic as compared to before camp.”

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